Money can’t buy happiness, then what can?
Well, nothing, according to the saying. You can only buy things with money, that’s what buy means.
But I get the sentiment. Most people form a common assumption that if you can’t get something with money, whether due to the expense or because it’s just not for sale, then it’s natural to move to some other form of barter. What can I cash in, trade-in, to feel happy?
I’m afraid it doesn’t work like that.
Still, I can feel a sort of breakthrough lurking, from you asking this question, as I also had a similar question, a few years back. I’ll try to go as detailed as I can without getting too personal or abstract.
First of all, happiness is unconditional. Instead of deciding to be happy or not be happy after taking in your environment, you must become a happy-by-default, and use that to shine your way forward, studying your external world of people, places, and things and from a position of shining out happiness in their direction.
Think of it like setting your car’s headlights on while driving at night, so you aren’t completely blind and invisible to other drivers. Not to say it’ll be as easy as pressing a button on your dashboard! But it’s far less difficult than the grisly expanse of that term “how to be happy”. Becoming happy is the easiest “hard thing” you can learn to do because the benefits of progress are incredibly obvious.
I used to think (like most), that my happiness was conditional on success since I didn’t have success in the things I cared about, like my career, at the time. But then I reached my goals and felt no better about it. I just had newer goals. So happiness is an inner feeling, and money, success, respect, even companionship has a little to do with it.
Someone wise once said that “love is a verb more than a noun.” It’s often used in the context of marriage. In other words, you choose to love someone, an act like giving them a hug, only mentally. It’s brief and must be done regularly out of a desire to do so. It’s something you actively do, on impulse if needed.
I see happiness in the same way as that quote sees love. It’s like a pair of sunglasses that I just enjoy wearing all day. I don’t see it as an external thing that I have no control over, but it’s also not some deep mysterious shadow in my heart that I can never truly understand. It’s just a lens for life, an outfit. Put it on as often as you like. Build, like a muscle, the ability to look at anything from a place of total happiness.
To help with all that, here are 10 practices and beliefs to help bring happiness closer to the core of what you do every day:
#1 Relish the fact that you can’t please everyone. You aren’t going to get anywhere in life without turning heads, without making an impression. And impressions are either positive or negative. This is not scary to me, it’s something I’ve grown to see as fun. Someone might not like me? Who? I wonder!
I was NOT like this at first not, for most of my life. I was very shy, introverted, and terrified of disapproval from others. But I told myself I was confident and not afraid of being disliked. Then I formed habits to reinforce those false beliefs, and sooner or later, they became true.
#2 Surround yourself with positive people. This will be more difficult depending on the quality of your social circle now. If the people around you are really negative, it’ll be that much harder to break away, since negative people like to sink their claws into each other. But be respectful of yourself. You aren’t obligated to just take in everyone’s nonsense all the time.
#3 Connect your tongue with your brain, that is, think before you speak. Speak less, avoid arguments.
As an aside for those interested in why it’s okay not to fight people on everything you care about: arguments are rarely about the actual ideas themselves. Usually, it’s just a game of “You’re not listening to me.” tennis. Again, have more respect for your time and yourself by speaking with the goal of not causing an argument. There’s no need to be argumentative when it isn’t warranted when it’s not over something that genuinely affects your life.
#4 Strengthen your decision making muscle. Many people live passively. They view life as a sequence of things that happen to them. I view life as something I’m crafting, chiseling like a marble statue, a little every day. I have the power to make good or bad decisions every waking second. It’s the sort of thing that’s hard to internalize without experience, but I thought I’d mention it.
#5 Learn to keep your emotions under control. Similar to #4 and a good place to start. You can decide not to be overwhelmed by an emotion that hits you at the moment. You can’t decide to not to feel the emotion AT ALL, mind you, but you can decide not to be overwhelmed.
#6 You need to care about other people. Weird advice, I know, since it’s more a personality trait than a tactic or concept, and it might even be totally innate, unable to be changed. Even so, the people who care the most about leaving other people better off, usually end up getting what they want. If you enjoy seeing others happy, pursue that feeling, and nurture it with other acts of kindness. It’s very hard to be in a bad mood if you made someone’s day.
For a more concrete exercise, I like to have a personal goal when I go into some kind of new interaction with strangers. For instance, if I’m going to a party, maybe I can introduce myself to at least 5 people. Just a really basic requirement I was probably going to meet anyway, but the feeling of making progress and then checking it off as done, live in my head, turns what would be a mundane event into a little dopamine hit.
#7 Be thankful for what you have. There is nothing wrong with working toward your own betterment, but don’t define yourself or your worth as a person on your life goals. Goals are just like thoughts or fears. They’re stuff. Things. They don’t really exist or have power over you that you don’t actually want them to have. And if you set a goal that was too high, so what? Adjust accordingly with your next goal.
#8 Be social. Spend time with your family and people you enjoy being around. For a huge amount of unhappy people, this was the only thing missing.
#9 Learn to relish your minutest achievements. It’s better than obsessing over long-term goals you haven’t reached and won’t for months, as most of us do.
#10 Don’t compete with others, rather compete with yourself. Make every day better. There’s enough opportunity out there. Do not fall for scarcity mind-control tactics. Once you become someone your competitors like and rely on, they’re not your competitors anymore.
Note that you don’t really have to trade anything in to do these things. Nothing of value, anyway. Everything mentioned above is free, and a source of happiness. Just take actions to better live out these ideals, and you will see a positive change in your life.
In conclusion, happiness can’t really be bought by anything. It is going to vary depending on the person, but in my experience, happiness is an internally driven, conscious mental decision. You must make that choice habitually, in the real everyday world.